Am I My Resume?: Why Liberal Studies Classes Might Be The Best Part of Your BFA
How many times have you heard the warning from mentors, teachers, parents and even bloggers, “if you can see yourself doing anything else other than theatre, do that”? I know I heard it over and over growing up. It was never out of a place of judgment or doubting my talent, but simply alerting me to the difficult lifestyle I was heading toward.
I recently saw a post on Facebook from a well-meaning college musical theatre student giving a tip to the rest of his/her classmates and it made alarm bells in my head start to clang very loudly. They made the statement that the younger students should not stress too much about their non-performing based classes (unless considering graduate school) because they are not necessarily as important to their future performing careers. This person did not say that students should try to do badly in those kinds of classes, but that the students should focus most of their attention on their theatre classes and let the liberal studies courses take the slack.
I completely understand the sentiment to commit to the artistic training in a college environment and always encourage students to make the most out of the 4 (or so) years they have to make mistakes, learn from them and continue to hone their skills and craft. What I have a huge problem with, however, is trying to convince students that liberal studies classes are not important to their future and simply an inconvenience of going to a university. In my experience, the opposite has been true and I believe there are many advantages to working hard in liberal studies or core classes.
Before I go into the details, one side note: while this post is directed at undergrad students, the idea can be applied to those in many stages of life. High schooler? Learn everything you can before getting to college and work on finessing good study skills (it will help later on, I promise). Those of you done with formal education? Find an outlet or something to learn outside of theatre that you have always wanted to try. Why not challenge yourself? Who knows where it could lead!
Here are some reasons why I think you should work to get an A in your liberal studies classes:
I have been blessed to be a pretty consistently working actor, but even then, I have always had a survival job. These jobs have ranged from things such as a temp, to a nanny, to working in make up retail, to teaching, to now working in development at a regional theatre. Looking back on my education, I wish I would’ve spent my time in college developing more marketable and useful skills for my employment outside of the theatre. I believe any college students in the arts should work just as hard at finding something that interests them that could be a possibly turn into a second career as they do at developing their artistic skills.
Also, your major does not define who you are! For example, Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, Book of Mormon, Frozen) literally has a B.A. in English from Yale and Carolee Carmello (Scandalous, Parade, etc) graduated with a Business Administration degree. If you are a theatre major, remember, use this time to “bloom and grow” in more ways than JUST in your acting skills (because that is the given!). If you are not a theatre major, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue your love for the stage!
I also believe that by diversifying yourself through your studies, it will make you an even more interesting, smart actor, business owner (because in this industry your craft is your business) and person in general. I had two favorite classes in college: Music Business and Early Christian Traditions, only one of which was required by my music major (and had NOTHING to do with musical theatre). The other was a random class I took to fulfill a requirement. I can’t tell you the number of times I have used both of these classes in my life. Music Business taught me how to negotiate, about music copyright laws, about how composers and lyricists get paid, etc. Early Christian Traditions taught me how to write a scholarly paper and how deep research can go (which helped me get into grad school and set up the skills I have needed in researching for my recent papers/blogs/webseries). I also love discussing topics OTHER than theatre with my castmates, and I use the knowledge and critical thinking skills from those “blow off” core classes to be an interesting, idea-contributing member of society. Smart actors / composers / lyricists / directors / creative people are usually very smart people in other areas too.
Lastly, if you cannot handle the workload of giving 100% to liberal studies classes AND to arts (or performing-based) classes? Good luck in the real world! Imagine the difficulty of holding down a survival job (or multiple in my case), going to auditions each morning, hopefully going to rehearsals or performing in the evening, making sure to get in voice lessons and dance classes, working out to stay healthy, and doing menial tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, etc. – all the while trying to maintain a social life and balance in your physical/emotional/spiritual life. College is an amazing training ground for this! If you don’t give your all to each of your classes or commitments, you are basically teaching yourself to do that in the future, which is a tough habit to break. Treat college as the real world on a trial basis and dedicate yourself to always working your hardest and being the best you can be. That way, you are setting yourself up for success later.
So readers, I leave you with a challenge: go explore. Fully embrace the experience of learning something new and not knowing how it could help in the future. Go take a class is something that interests you outside of the 4 walls of a theatre or studio. We don’t know exactly what the future holds; it’s better to be overprepared and surprised when you are too busy starring on Broadway to work a day job than to ever be stuck in a job you hate.
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